In the present report a monoclonal antibody designated OX-38 directed against the rat CD4 molecule was tested for its ability to prolong the survival of heterotopic vascularized rat heart allografts transplanted across major histocompatibility barriers. Fluorescence-activated cell-sorter analysis showed that administration of OX-38 selectively depleted 80-95% of CD4+ cells from peripheral blood of treated rats. The immunosuppressive effects of OX-38 in vivo were verified by suppression of an antibody response against OX-38 itself as a heterologous protein immunogen. Recipient rats received OX-38 antibody as a single agent given in pretransplant regimens. Nine of 12 treated rats have maintained heterotopic abdominal heart allografts for greater than 175 days. Control rats that did not receive antibody therapy rejected their grafts within 14 days. Rats that maintained heart allografts for greater than 100 days accepted second donor strain hearts but rejected third-party heart grafts transplanted into the femoral space. Anti-CD4-induced allograft unresponsiveness persisted for at least 90 days following surgical removal of donor tissue and retransplantation of a second donor-matched heart. These results indicated that transient, pretransplant therapy with monoclonal antibodies directed against the CD4+ lymphocyte induced specific, long-lasting unresponsiveness to fully MHC-mismatched cardiac allografts in rats without additional immunosuppression.